Monday, August 9, 2010

Fragile Homeschoolers: Handle with Care

(This post isn't just for homeschoolers.)

We're getting ready to start our 11th year of teaching the Young'uns at home.  No wonder I'm tired.  Abby, the littlest Young'un, will graduate in 2026 only 16 years away.  Now I'm really tired.  But I digress...

When we started homeschooling, we thought about our goals and dreams for our kids.  I talked about our "big rocks" here.  I think about these things periodically as they help guide me in the decisions I make about what, when, where and why each child studies what they study.  In the early years, making these decisions is fairly easy.  A student needs to learn to read - I find a reading program.  Some adding skills are needed - we do math.  As the next child becomes old enough to start reading or adding, I do the same thing.  Lather. Rinse. Repeat.  To be sure, some tweaking occurs with each child, not every book will work with the same kid, but it's pretty much the same deal. 

However, there is always that oldest child.  The one who is inching ever closer to The End.  The End of high school and schooling at home.  The End of sitting down to most meals with us.  The End of being under the influence of the Big Guy and me.  I know parents still greatly influence their children throughout the said child's life, but once they leave home, it is different.  I remember.  It's an End.

Our oldest son, Nate, is going to be a junior in high school this year.  He's not sure what he'll be doing in two years - the possibilities of what God has for him are exciting!  We're trying our best to do all we can to get him ready for the next step.  Will it be college?  Quite probably.  But whatever it is, we don't want to send him out unprepared.

How will we know he's prepared?  Well, I'd like him to know how to do laundry and be a good steward with his money.  He needs to know how to communicate with others - old, young, male, female, co-workers, employers, professors.  A hefty dose of self-discipline and common sense would be great in his tool chest.  Also, the ability to sew on a button or change a tire or at least be resourceful enough to find someone who can do those things for him.  These things would all be helpful.

But I think he'll be most prepared if he's strong.  Strong in knowledge, yes.  Strong in skills, yes.  Most importantly, strong in his faith.  We want him to know what he believes, why he believes and live those beliefs. 

Now, here comes the shocker...we want him to be strong because we WANT him to be challenged by thoughts and people who don't believe the same as he does.  We WANT him (and all our children) to encounter professors or students or co-workers who think differently and hold different beliefs.  Do we want our children's beliefs and thoughts to change?  Not necessarily.  The Big Guy and I want our children to be able to listen to others, to examine their thoughts and lives and see how it all stacks up to Truth.  God's Truth.  We don't want fragile kids with fragile hearts, minds and faith.  How thankful we would be to learn our children have been strong enough to encounter "un-truth" and turn it towards Truth - towards Christ!

Susan Wise Bauer, her books and website, "The Well Trained Mind at Home," have been big influences on our homeschooling.  I've haven't been a frequent reader of Susan's blog, but the other day I stopped there and read her latest post called, "What Not to Look for in an Academic Department."  Bauer is a homeschooling Mom, wife of a pastor and college English professor.  In this post, she answers a question often posed to her, "Where can I send my homeschooled child to college where they won't be inundated with professors who don't think like we do?"  (I've paraphrased this question.)

I encourage you to read the whole post, but I'm including my favorite part here.  She has some great things to say about "fragile" students - homeschooled or otherwise.

From "What Not to Look for in an Academic Department:"

Eighteen and nineteen-year-olds should be mature enough to take classes from faculty they disagree with–or else they’re not mature enough to be at university.

Higher education isn’t just about absorbing information; it’s also about learning how to listen to someone with whom you largely disagree, pick out what’s valuable, and figure out how to respond to the rest. It is also –and this is even more important–about allowing yourself to be challenged. If you go into university unwilling to even listen to opposing perspectives, you’re not likely to benefit a great deal. You’ll be so busy defending yourself that you won’t be able to entertain the possibility that, in some areas, you might be wrong.

I myself have had a very frustrating time teaching students who come into William & Mary primed to resist the lies of “liberal faculty.” (That includes a lot of home educated students, who register for for my classes because they think I’m safe.) Every time I say something that strikes them as possibly “liberal,” all of their defenses go up and they tune me out. I can’t play devil’s advocate or dialogue with them–they immediately put me on the list of untrustworthy professors and stop listening.

And at that point they become unteachable.

I’m often asked how home educated students stack up against others in my classes. My overwhelming impression is that they’re more fragile. They’ve got little resilience; I can’t push at their presuppositions even a little bit. Maybe they’re afraid those presuppositions will shatter.

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this...


  1. I think in this way, home schoolers are reflections of their parents. Perhaps even moreso than with students who trained in other venues as the influence of the parent is, by nature of the endeavor, stronger and more deeply entrenched. It goes back then to the parent's motivation for educating their children at home.

    If fear is the primary motivator, they will most likely produce fragile, fearful, suspicious children. If love (not love for their children, but love for God's creation and the people in it) is the motivation, then they are more likely to produce robust, vigorous offspring.

    Similar to The Big Guy's take on church in his last post.

    I say train and equip your children to be wrestlers. Strong. Enduring, skilled and eager to grapple with whatever they meet on the mat of life. Properly prepared, they will emerge from each match stronger. Perhaps bloodied and beaten up, maybe even defeated. But stronger and game for the next bout. That love of struggle ( in a good way) is a love of life as God has given it to us.

  2. This is great Wendy. As you know my limited experience as a Biology TA at a very liberal CA State school allowed me to see first hand some of these fragile products of homeschooling. I agree wholeheartedly with the previous responder that the children will be representatives of their parent's motives for homeschooling. Watching homeschool kids purposefully fail a lab on genetics and evolution (not speciation; genetic evolution is fact, speciation is theory) because they did not beilieve in it was heartbreaking. How on earth do they know what they believe until they have heard all the evidence?
    I love what you are doing with the next generation of Jungs! Keep on keepin' on!